People say that competition isn’t about the winning, it’s about the taking part. As admirable a sentiment as that is, and as true as it may be in some cases, it doesn’t always apply. You win something because, usually, you were the best person competing, and you miss out on winning because you weren’t good enough to take the prized spot.
Every competitive sport is like this. Winning counts. Winning MATTERS.
I’ve always said battle rapping qualifies as a sport, because it does, and anyone who says it doesn’t is wrong. Sure, they aren’t athletes, so maybe it’s not a TRUE sport, but it is a competitive medium. Throughout the 90s and into 2000s, battles evolved from just being on stage and playfully mocking the opponent with verse, or rocking a crowd (Busy Bee Vs Kool Moe Dee, for example), and became something else entirely. The plight of the MC was vastly stepped up as the craft of MCing became a talent all its own.
In 1996, Nick Accurso and Jason Brunson founded Scribble Jam, America’ largest hip hop festival. It featured everything from live music, breakdancing, DJ sets and MC battles. It went from strength-to-strength, as everything in the battling scene seems to, and all of a sudden Scribble Jam had traded parking lots for known venues packed out with as many as 20,000 plus fans.
What IS Scribble Jam and why were the battles so important though?
Scribble Jam was survival of the fittest. Scribble Jam was an all-freestyle tournament where you would battle many MCs per day, with zero preparation, on beat. Everything had to be recited off-the-top, or at the very least recited from memory. Rebuttals were the currency during these times. They hit hard enough in written battle leagues of today, but back then, rebuttals were truly a ten to a penny. Anyone who won Scribble Jam almost inarguably deserved it, off the back of the sheer skill it takes to battle that way. When you saw Eyedea, Adeem, The Saurus (Twice), Illmaculate or Nocando crowned as king, you KNOW they won for a reason. You know they had the right to stand up and say, “I do this. This is my area. Get at me.”
Then came the W.R.C. (World Rap Championships), courtesy of Jump-Off. The W.R.C. was a monumental worldwide 2-on-2 tournament that yielded reward of $40,000 each for the winners. The Saurus/Illmaculate, again, won this twice with an unprecedented and, some say, unmatched display of freestyle and written lyricism on top of an ability to cater to each opponent. You won because you were the best. All of the league owners you see, for the most part, plied their craft in the W.R.C. tournaments. Eurgh of Don’t Flop, Organik of King of the Dot? They both started as freestyle MCs, and truly amazing ones at that.
These leagues eventually folded and/or went bankrupt, leaving a hole that sorely needed to be filled.
Like a phoenix from the ashes, we finally received organisations like The Elements League (Canada) and Grind Time (America). These were written battle leagues in which you are told of your opponent and given time to write bars before the event your battle is held out. This added an ENTIRELY new dynamic to the artform. Lyricism became harder hitting and way more relevant due to the ability of being able to write specifically for an opponent. Freestyle rebuttals became more noticeable and effective, too. Especially due to the fact that certain written MCs couldn’t, and still cannot, rebuttal.
It takes a grand amount of skill, bravery and talent to be good and come out a winner, but with promo (No win/loss) battles becoming more popular, crowning true winners seems to be a legitimately dying concept. Can any of these modern day battlers claim greatness over ALL time, or just their era? King of the Dot hosts a Grand Prix in which the winner gets a title shot, and that is written, too. It is a great competition and provides a much needed injection of MCs taking their bars seriously.
Just how much are we missing Scribble or the W.R.C., though? Much is said of The Saurus and Illmac’s legacies (I think Illmac is the best ever due to his top tier domination of both eras), and deservedly so, but would they still be bringing home championships today? Maybe they would be twelve time W.R.C. champs. Maybe Saurus would never win another Scribble, or win four more. Who can say? Nobody, and I do think that is the problem.
If I ever won the lotto, I would put up 10 grand and invite MCs to come perform in a Scribble type tournament. Not only would it force people to really measure their skills in an environment where winning matters, but it would open this generation to an entirely different aspect of battling.
I prefer written to freestyled battles; the content is cleaner and the material is generally much better. The only reason it’s so good now is because of what came before, though.
With that said, The Saurus vs. Justice from Scribble Jam 2006 is the absolute pinnacle of freestyle battles.
“Your name’s The Saurus, but your face is more like the asteroid that killed you.”
“This is America, bitch. Here, Justice is served.”
Amazing. Just amazing.
I don’t know how close we are to ever having something like this again, or ever, but I feel that today’s MCs are missing the chance to hone their craft in an area of battling that matters SO much…but seems to be dying out. I feel that any MC who hasn’t earned their stripes in those kinds of battles will never be a complete battler.
Bring back the freestyle tournament. To those of you who MC in written leagues, I beg you to step your freestyle games up. You’ll win a lot more battles. Trust me.
Can you imagine a Scribble Jam or a W.R.C. with the likes of Nils in it? Tenchoo/Lego as a W.R.C. team? These are the things we’re missing, and I think that is damned tragic.